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Shane McElrath interview

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At the 2017 250SX Western Regional Supercross Championship opener in Anaheim, Troy Lee Designs / Red Bull / KTM’s Shane McElrath surprised everyone with a wire-wire victory, and a good percentage of fans and experts alike reserved judgement with statements like, “Let’s see if he can back it up in San Diego.” The #38 rolled into San Diego with the red background and not only backed it up but came from behind on what was one of the gnarliest tracks we have seen in a while to make it two in a row. It not only proved to the doubters that he was for real, it had to leave Shane believing in himself on a whole new level as well.

On a track that demanded focus and bit more than one rider in qualifying, Shane was on the gas all day and night. The points leader was second fastest in qualifying and later went wire-to-wire in the faster of the two heat races. Heading to the main event with the first gate pick and the red plate is a whole new pressure for Shane, but unlike in years past, pressure does not translate into mistakes.

In the main event, Shane checked in after lap one in fifth, and after a battle with the rookie Monster / Pro Circuit / Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner that got physical and even sent Shane off the track, he quickly regrouped, got back around the #24 and patiently clicked off the laps. With just two laps to go, Shane had worked his way up to the leader, Rockstar / Husqvarna’s Martin Davalos. He squared Davalos up a half lap later in a 180 bowl turn with a move that he had been using on riders all night long to take over the lead. Then, despite pressure from Monster / Pro Circuit / Kawasaki’s Justin Hill on the last lap, Shane was able to hang on for win number two.

With the first two wins of the year and the first two wins of the North Carolinian’s career in the books, Shane pulled out of San Diego with an eight-point lead over Star Racing / Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger and a twelve-point lead over Justin Hill and Martin Davalos—all of whom were considered favorites in the Championship and all of whom have wins under their belts heading into 2017.

Congratulations on back-to-back wins. You had to work on it a little differently this weekend coming from the back.

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I actually had a pretty good start, but I got shut down. The first laps were kind of chaotic. Everybody was bouncing off of each other, but probably lap three or four, everybody settled down and I was able to put on a charge. I was what seemed like six or seven seconds behind already. I didn’t really know where we were time-wise; I just tried to keep pushing. I think the guys in front of me were making a few mistakes, and myself too. I just tried to keep fighting. That’s why we’re here. We prepared during the offseason. We’re healthy, and every weekend we’re going to fight. Thankfully, we came out on top this week, but it wasn’t easy.

Talk about the dirt tonight in contrast to last weekend in Anaheim.

Being in the first heat race, it was actually pretty muddy. The first few laps, with how everything packed down, it was almost like riding kind of loamy dirt. You could force it wherever you wanted to go and get away with it. By lap three or four, everything started to get pushed off, and that’s when we got down to that hard base. With the moisture that came out, it was kind of muddy, more so than it had all day. In the heat race, it was probably pretty technical, but there were a lot of shiny spots in the main. That’s what made the track tough.

Last weekend was an emotional first win. How does it feel to back that up and with such a close battle?

It feels good. It makes me feel good that what we’ve been doing is paying off. Not that I didn’t think it was, but I got hurt in outdoors and didn’t get back to training until outdoors was over and everyone else was getting going on their break. I had a little bit longer than everyone else, but at the same time it’s tough to be doing SX for three and a half months and doing the same thing over and over. We did our work, got healthy and got strong. This weekend, it was easy to go out there and think about everything that’s been going on, but at the same time, I was trying to forget about last weekend all week. It was just the first race and everybody was nervous. Lining up on the starting gate, everybody is fast, everybody is fit, and I just had to go out and apply myself and put myself in a good position. We’ll take what we can out of that.

How important for the confidence was backing that first one up?

Yeah, this one is huge! Last weekend could have been written off as luck or coincidence. Like I said, we’re healthy and ready to go. This weekend it was one of those things where I struggled with a few parts of the track in practice, but I just gotta go out and apply myself. I know I can get good starts. I’m here to fight for it, and tonight’s race was really tough. I didn’t know where we were time-wise and I got the 3min + 1 [on pit board], and it was pretty much just give it every I had. Justin [Hill] and Aaron [Plessinger] were catching us. It’s crazy to think of everything that was going on there, but at the same time, to have to come from behind and plan everything out—”Alright, I’m going to do this here”—is pretty crazy to think.

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